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Devolution is the transfer of powers from a central body to subordinate regional bodies. The UK Parliament at Westminster has devolved different powers to three bodies: the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The Scotland Act 1998 provided for the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. Under the terms of the Act, the Scottish Parliament is able to pass laws affecting Scotland on a range of issues, which are known as devolved matters. The Act also gives the Scottish Parliament the power to raise or lower the basic rate of income tax by up to three pence in the pound.
The Scotland Act 2012, which was passed by the UK Parliament and received royal assent in May 2012, gives the Scottish Parliament a range of additional powers. These include powers relating to borrowing and income tax, as well as law-making powers on matters such as speed limits and air guns. It will be a few years, however, before all sections of the Act come fully into effect.
The usual parliamentary process for a bill consists of three stages:
Stage 1 - consideration of the general principles of the bill by parliamentary committee(s), and a debate and decision on these by the Parliament.
Stage 2 - detailed consideration of the bill by parliamentary committee(s). Two days before a bill will be considered in committee, the clerks prepare a Marshalled List of amendments, which is posted on the bill’s web page.
Stage 3 - final consideration of the bill by the Parliament and a decision whether it should be passed or rejected.
After a bill has been passed and received royal assent, it becomes an Act of the Scottish Parliament and appears on the Legislation.gov.uk website.
Not all the provisions of the Act will necessarily commence (come into force) with royal assent. The Act may state when provisions will come into force or that the date (or dates, if different parts are to be brought into force at different times) will be decided by the Scottish Ministers. Enquiries about commencement should be directed to the Scottish Government.
Detailed information on the legislative process can be found in the Parliament’s standing orders.
Bills can be introduced to the Parliament by different means:
Government bills are introduced by a member of the Scottish Government.
Committee bills are introduced by the convener of a committee and may follow a committee inquiry on the need for legislation in a particular area.
Members' bills can be introduced by any MSP who is not a member of the Scottish Government.
Private bills are introduced by a promoter, who is an individual or a body seeking to obtain particular powers or benefits that are in addition to, or in conflict with, the general law.
Someone who is not an MSP can introduce a private bill, but the purpose of such a bill is limited. The purpose of a private bill is to obtain for the individual or corporation proposing it specific powers that go beyond or conflict with the general law. A member of the public cannot introduce a bill to change the general law that applies across Scotland, for example, concerning health, education or housing.
For members of the public who wish to see changes to the general law, there are several ways to make their concerns known. These include:
- contacting their MSPs (for example, an MSP could introduce a member’s bill or take the proposal to a committee which might bring forward a committee bill)
- submitting a petition asking the Parliament to amend an existing law or introduce a new law.
Further information on petitioning the Parliament is available in Petitioning the Scottish Parliament.
Any MSP who is not a member of the Scottish Government can introduce a member’s bill.
A draft proposal is printed in Section G of the Business Bulletin for one day. Thereafter, in most cases, a consultation document is issued seeking comments and views. At the end of the consultation period (or after it has been agreed that no consultation is needed), the MSP can lodge a final proposal, which is printed in Section G of the Business Bulletin for a month. If this proposal attracts cross-party support from 18 other MSPs during this time, and the Government do not indicate that they will bring forward their own legislation, the member can then introduce a bill to give effect to it at any time during the four-year session. The proposal process for members' bills is outlined in a flow chart.
There is a list of all proposed members' bills on our website. Any inquiries about a proposed member’s bill before its introduction should be directed to the office of the relevant MSP.
A private bill is one introduced by a promoter. The promoter can be an individual, a company or a group of people who is seeking to obtain particular powers or benefits that are in addition to, or in conflict with, the general law. Private bills generally relate to development projects, the use of land, or the property or status of the promoter.
More information about private bills is available in the Parliamentary Business section of our website.
If a bill is still in progress through the Scottish Parliament, you can express your concerns about it and attempt to change its provisions. There are various points at which you can do this. When and how you do this depends on the type of bill.
Information on how to contribute to the process of scrutinising and amending bills introduced by the Scottish Government (which are known as Government bills) is available in Amendments to Executive Bills: Guidance (60KB pdf) on the website. (Prior to 3 July 2012, Government bills were referred to as Executive bills.) The Scottish Government is responsible for most of the bills introduced to the Parliament. Other types of public bill, such as committee bills and members' bills, follow procedures similar to those for Government bills.
Information on how to object to a private bill is available in Information for Objectors to Private Bills. Details of the procedures for scrutinising private bills are available in the Guidance on Private Bills in the Parliamentary Procedure section of the website.
The Current Bills section on the website lists all bills that are currently in progress. You can access information about an individual bill's progress by clicking on the name of the bill on this page. Details of the current status of each bill can be found in Section J of the Business Bulletin.
A summary of all the bills considered by the Scottish Parliament in the current session and in the previous sessions can be found in the Parliamentary Business series of fact sheets on our website, under the title 'Scottish Parliament Legislation'. (Lists of bills from previous sessions are in the Parliamentary Business: Historical Series.)
You can access an electronic copy of all Scottish Parliament bills and their accompanying documents from the Bills section on our website. For a paper copy of a bill, please contact APS on 0131 629 9941.
The length of time taken for a bill to go through the Parliament varies, as each bill is treated as an individual case.
The Parliamentary Bureau proposes timescales for the completion of the different stages of each bill. These proposals are put forward in business motions and have to be agreed at a meeting of the Parliament. Once agreed, the details are noted on the Current Bills Tracker.
All parliamentary business is suspended during dissolution, and any bills that have not been passed before the Parliament is dissolved will fall. Similarly, any proposals for bills that have not been introduced will also fall.
Bills that have been passed by the Parliament before dissolution can be submitted for royal assent and become Acts after dissolution.
The full text of all Acts of the Scottish Parliament is published electronically on the Legislation.gov.uk website.
Paper copies of Acts of the Scottish Parliament can be purchased through The Stationery Office.
You can consult Acts of the Scottish Parliament electronically in public libraries around the country. Some libraries may also hold printed copies of Acts.
The staff of the Scottish Parliament are unable to provide legal advice on any matter.
You may find it useful, however, to contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau, which can provide free, impartial advice about a range of matters. The Law Society of Scotland's website, which contains information on various legal matters and a directory of accredited specialists, may also be of help.
Subordinate legislation (often called delegated or secondary legislation) is law that is made by executive bodies or individuals – most often by Ministers – under powers granted to them by primary legislation (Acts). Much of the detail of an Act (for example concerning timing, implementation or the mechanism for updating) is often left to subordinate legislation.
Subordinate legislation is usually made in the form of statutory instruments (made under Acts of the UK Parliament) and Scottish statutory instruments (made under Acts of the Scottish Parliament). The Act under which the subordinate legislation is made (which is known as the parent Act) will set out the nature and extent of the powers delegated and the level of parliamentary scrutiny to which the instrument will be subject.
The Parliament’s role is to scrutinise subordinate legislation and, where applicable, approve or reject it. It is extremely rare for the Parliament to have any scope to amend or change subordinate legislation.
The Act under which a particular piece of subordinate legislation is made will normally indicate the type of parliamentary procedure to which it will be subject. Most statutory instruments (the most common form of subordinate legislation) are subject to either negative procedure or affirmative procedure, hence the terms ‘negative instrument’ and ‘affirmative instrument’.
Some instruments do not have to be laid before the Parliament and some are simply laid before the Parliament without being subject to any further parliamentary procedure (for example, commencement orders to bring sections of an Act into force). Although there is no parliamentary mechanism for challenging such instruments, the Subordinate Legislation Committee may look at the technical aspects and raise any queries directly with the Scottish Government, for example by writing to the relevant ministerial department.
Affirmative instruments are normally laid before the Parliament in draft form and require the approval of the Parliament in order to come into force or (more rarely) to remain in force. Negative instruments are usually made (that is, signed by a Minister) before they are laid before the Parliament, and they come into force generally 28 days after being laid. To prevent a negative instrument coming into force or remaining in force, a motion to annul it has to be agreed by the Parliament in the Chamber no later than 40 days after the instrument was laid.
Most instruments are considered by the Subordinate Legislation Committee and at least one other Scottish Parliament committee. (The instrument is assigned to a committee on the basis of its subject-matter and the clerks to the Subordinate Legislation Committee will designate a lead committee for each instrument.) However, on a motion of the Parliamentary Bureau, the Parliament may decide that an instrument or draft instrument will go directly to the Chamber for consideration rather than through a lead committee.
The current procedures for dealing with negative and affirmative instruments are set out in detail in Chapter 10 of the standing orders.
Some of the instruments laid before the Scottish Parliament are not subject to any parliamentary procedure. In the case of those that are, the key points in the timescales for affirmative instruments (which are subject to approval) and for negative instruments (which are subject to annulment) are indicated below.
- The Subordinate Legislation Committee considers the technical and legal aspects of the instruments and has to report on these to the relevant lead committee normally no later than 20 days after the instrument is laid.
- The lead committee must report to the Parliament with its recommendations on approval no later than 40 days after the instrument is laid. This normally follows consideration of a motion from the Minister that the committee should recommend approval.
- The motion to approve the instrument is normally lodged and considered at a meeting of the Parliament in the Chamber no later than 40 days after the instrument is laid, but it can be scheduled for a date after the 40-day period. (No time limit is set in legislation or the standing orders for the Parliament to agree a motion to approve an affirmative instrument, but a long delay is not desirable from a practical point of view.)
- The Subordinate Legislation Committee considers the technical and legal aspects of the instrument and has to report on these to the relevant lead committee normally no later than 20 days after the instrument is laid.
- A negative instrument normally comes into force 28 days after being laid.
- An MSP who wishes to prevent the instrument coming into or remaining in force has to lodge a motion to annul it no later than 40 days from the date the instrument was laid.
- Where the lead committee recommends that the instrument should be annulled, it must report to the Parliament no later than 40 days from the date the instrument was laid.
- Where the lead committee recommends annulment in its report to the Parliament, the Parliamentary Bureau must lodge a motion to annul the instrument and schedule time for consideration of the motion in the Chamber to take place no later than 40 days from the date the instrument was laid.
In practice, the last date for consideration of a motion in the Chamber is the last Wednesday or Thursday before or including the 40th day from the date the instrument was laid, and the last date for the lead committee to report is the Monday of that week.
Notice that a statutory instrument has been laid before the Parliament is published in Section H of the Business Bulletin, normally the day after it is laid. This will indicate the date it was laid, the Act under which it was laid, the number assigned to it (SI for a statutory instrument and SSI for a Scottish statutory instrument) and the type of parliamentary procedure to which it is subject or if it is not subject to any parliamentary procedure.
Section J of the Business Bulletin lists all statutory instruments currently subject to parliamentary procedure, with a note for each one of the lead committee considering it. It also indicates the final date for annulling the instrument (if it is subject to negative procedure) or for the committee to report on approval of it (if it is subject to affirmative procedure).
A Scottish Statutory Instrument tracker report is published under Current business on the Subordinate Legislation Committee webpages and is updated weekly when the Parliament is sitting . This indicates the dates on which the instrument is considered by the Subordinate Legislation Committee and the lead committee, the final dates for reporting on the instrument, the dates on which the relevant committee reports are published and what recommendation – if any – is made.
Statutory instruments that have been made (that is, signed) by Ministers are published on the legislation.gov.uk website managed by the National Archives. Printed copies can be purchased from The Stationery Office (TSO).
Affirmative instruments are normally laid in draft. Draft Scottish statutory instruments are also published on the legislation.gov.uk website managed by the National Archives. Printed copies can be purchased from TSO.
The aim is to publish statutory instruments and draft statutory instruments on the legislation.gov.uk website at the same time as they appear in printed form or at least within the following 24 hours.
If an instrument is not available on the Legislation website or from TSO, contact the Scottish Government for advice on obtaining a copy.
Some statutory instruments can still be made (that is, signed by a Scottish Minister) when the Parliament is dissolved, but such instruments cannot be laid before the Parliament until after the election.
All parliamentary scrutiny is suspended during the dissolution period. This means that some instruments laid in the present session may be subject to continued scrutiny when the new session starts after the election.
Yes. However, by convention, the UK Parliament would not normally do so without seeking the consent of the Scottish Parliament.
The way in which the UK Parliament obtains this consent is through a legislative consent motion. Essentially, this is a short statement indicating that the Scottish Parliament is content for the UK Parliament to legislate on a devolved matter. This motion is usually proposed by a member of the Scottish Government, but it can be put forward by any MSP. MSPs will have an opportunity to discuss and vote on it.
No. However, all bills passed by the Scottish Parliament must be given royal assent by HM The Queen before they can come into force.